And he's führious.

And he’s führious.

“It was probably the German people, the Volk, which surprised me most of all.”

Speaking of monsters, there is one man who is considered the most monstrous of all. Hitler is a figure so universally hated that his name has become a byword for all that is wrong and evil in the world. Before we get going, I am going to state for the record here and now that what Hitler did was wrong. Genocide is wrong. War is wrong. His belief system was screwy and the man was quite possibly mad. I neither condone or support the atrocities he caused or allowed to occur. I shouldn’t have to say that, because it should be obvious.

Unfortunately, in this very difficult review, I have some things to say that I never thought I would. Let’s begin.

Look Who’s Back came out in Germany a couple of years ago where, as you can imagine, it shocked and appalled the German people. Hitler is, naturally, a very taboo subject in the country and so to write a novel from his point of view was something that could have gone very, very wrong. As it was, Vermes has done it very, very right. The basic plot is as follows.

In 2011, Hitler wakes up in Berlin, disorientated and unable to remember anything beyond sitting with Eva Braun in the Führerbunker. Now, he’s almost seventy years ahead of that time, wondering what on earth has happened to his country. It’s now run by a dumpy woman, full of immigrants, and none of the people are saluting him. He is taken in by a newspaper vendor and, through the papers, learns much of what he’s missed. Some of it impresses him, but there’s precious little of that.

He begins to attract attention and soon broadcasting people are interested in this man who refuses to give his real name or break character for even a second. Convinced that he is the most realistic Hitler impersonator they’ve ever seen, he is offered a part on a popular comedy show. After his first appearance, people aren’t quite sure what to make of him, but he goes viral and discovers that people are willing to listen to him, even if they are laughing. So while he cannot understand why no one seems to accept him for who he is, the people nonetheless begin to worship him…

I think the most difficult thing about this is the fact that it forces us to remember that Hitler was not a monster or a dragon, but a human being and, like all human beings, was therefore a patchwork of good and bad. This Hitler is not an evil dictator. His ideas, for the most part, are naturally unthinkable to the average reader, but he is not portrayed as ruthless in his manner, or shown to be gunning people down himself. He is, above all else, a politician and an orator, a charismatic leader who, now struggling to come to terms with the events between his first death and second birth, is naive in the ways of the modern world. He forms an oddly sympathetic character, fascinated by computers and the Internet, but unable to understand why everyone is laughing at him and no one recognises him for being the real deal.

This is actually far scarier than him shouting.

This is actually far scarier than him shouting.

I think that that was always the most terrifying thing about Hitler; his humanity. He was charming. He liked children and animals. He supported adoption, reduced unemployment, encouraged development of the Volkswagen, and eliminated foreign debt. And yet, despite that, he still ordered the deaths of millions. We can dress him up as evil incarnate as much as we like, but evil for the sake of evil doesn’t exist. Hitler believed that he was doing the right thing for his country. I am not supporting his actions, they were atrocious, I am merely saying that he, like everyone else before and since, exists in shades of grey rather than a black/white morality.

The book deals with absurdities of modern life, of how technology has advanced to such a point that another Hitler would be even more dangerous (imagine what he could do with the Internet’s audience) and also seems to study the guilt that Germany is left with. After all, Hitler didn’t appear from nowhere first time round. He was elected, and people did his bidding. How much was “brainwashing” and how much was willingly done? It’s also about the cult of celebrity that the Western world now has, as we now seem to rank celebrities above almost all other news.

The supporting cast of characters are also excellent. His young staff are at first nervous about what he’s doing, but they can’t argue with the ratings and it also helps that Hitler misinterprets their positive comments about his work as being positive comments about his beliefs and plans for the future of Germany. Practically all of the dialogue is double-speak, with Hitler and the modern Germans having different intentions and understandings of what is being said. The strongest example is probably when Madame Bellini, a TV executive, warns him off making Jewish ‘jokes’ with the words, “The Jews are no laughing matter”. Hitler misunderstands this and thinks that she means that her opinion of the Jews is like his. Incredibly awkward.

My one flaw? At the end of the book are a few pages giving a few more details on Hitler’s backstory, as well as information about other prominent Nazis and modern Germans who are mentioned. While good, this could really have done with being at the front, although I did read this before beginning. While this book is naturally going to be controversial, I nonetheless think that it is an excellent read. Sometimes it’s written in quite a dense, political style, but I’m told that this is merely mirroring the style of Mein Kampf, which makes the whole thing even more intelligent.

It’s a smart, scary book, and yet another reminder of how wrong humans have been in the past, and that we must strive to never let someone like this get into power again.